Military To Be Deployed During PNG Highway Repairs

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Anyone caught interfering in efforts to be arrested or fined

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (The National, May 9, 2013) – Soldiers will be deployed to Papua New Guinea’s Chimbu with instructions to arrest people who attempt to stop repair work on a section of the Highlands Highway damaged by a landslip, Prime Minister Peter O’Neill said yesterday.

The Defence Force personnel will work alongside police mobile units in a joint operation to swiftly clamp down on individuals and groups who incited disruptions to the repair and restoration work on the damaged highway.

This will include landowners pushing their compensation demands.

A hefty penalty of five-year imprisonment or K100,000 [US$45,561] fine will be imposed on those involved.

The National has learnt this is not a one-off exercise but the start of a concerted government move to remove landowner demands and disruptions to work on important infrastructure throughout the country.

"The government wants to restore the highway as quickly as possible because it is an important economic lifeline for all highlands provinces," the prime minister said in a statement.

"The presence of soldiers and mobile police units will ensure repair and restoration work on the collapsed highway is done swiftly."

He appealed to villagers on both sides of the landslip area not to take advantage of the disaster to demand compensation or harass travelers.

The government’s decision was made yesterday during a special meeting of the National Executive Council (NEC) which approved the immediate deployment of the PNG Defence Force to restore normalcy on the highway.

O’Neill said the cabinet’s decision was based on a standing call-out decision that remained current.

Works and Implementation Minister Francis Awesa told The National that Defence Force personnel and police had been authorized to arrest people trying to stop work on the highway.

He warned that the government would not be easy on people who disrupted the free flow of services.

He said those found guilty of disrupting operations to restore the highway faced fines of K100,000 or five-year jail terms.

"Cabinet is concerned with the manner in which the people are trying to hold the country to ransom.

"This is a last warning to those trying to disrupt the restoration of the highway that they will face the full force of the law," Awesa said.

The massive landslip last Saturday cut the road link from Lae and Madang to the highlands provinces of Jiwaka, Western Highlands, Enga, Southern Highlands and Hela.

Food and fuel supplies in the affected provinces are expected run out after four weeks while people have been buying in bulk to try to beat the crisis if the highway remains closed.

[PIR editor's note: The National also reports that the estimated costs of repairing damaged sections of the highway due to damage from a landslide last weekend will cost US$3.6 million. Acting Works Secretary David Wereh says the scope of the repairs includes removal of debris, reinstatement of the road and resettlement of displaced residents from Kerowagi. Meanwhile, Western Highlands tribal chief Michael Pundia has condemned the national government for failing to maintain the highway, saying successive governments have never taken it seriously, and now the highway is a total failure.]

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